New York commuters owe a debt of gratitude to the Empire Center, the top think tank monitoring the state’s fiscal and economic health — for its report exposing the overtime scandal at the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).
In 2018, MTA employee overtime was up 16% over 2017, costing $1.287 billion versus $1.1 billion in 2017.
The most egregious overtime payments went to Long Island Railroad (LIRR) employees.
LIRR overtime was up 30% in 2018; costing $224.6 million versus $174.4 million in 2017. Employees "collected an average of 50 percent more in overtime, or $34,000, than 2017 when overtime averaged $22,701," according to the Empire Center's report.
Of the top 100 paid MTA employees, 58 worked for the LIRR.
And four of them were the highest paid in the entire MTA system. Their total incomes ranged from $380 thousand to $461 thousand.
The median pay of LIRR workers is the highest in the MTA and is greater than the median income of Nassau County and Suffolk County residents who pay the tab. LIRR median pay in 2017 was $104,146; while it was $99,465 in Nassau and in Suffolk, $88,662.
No one should be surprised that LIRR commuters were livid when the massive overtime compensation became public.
"It’s bad enough dealing with constant train delays and track problems and all this other stuff," one rider complained. "But it’s an extra slap in the face knowing that my money, instead of fixing these problems, is paying high salaries to people who don’t necessarily deserve them."
As for the reactions of the MTA and Gov. Cuomo, their ire was at best feigned. That’s because massive overtime payments are not new. It has been going on for years.
Take, for example, the response of MTA board member Larry Schwartz. Known in political circles as Governor Cuomo’s top political lackey since convicted felon Joe Percoco gave up that role, Schwartz, was, no doubt, following orders when he publicly demanded a special MTA Board meeting to initiate an overtime crackdown.
The indignant Schwartz clamored for the hiring of a special prosecutor to investigate; even though the MTA has an anti-fraud department.
Schwartz’s public performance reminded me of Casablanca’s Captain Renault who was "shocked, shocked!" to find that gambling was going on at Rick’s Café as he was handed his roulette winnings.
As for Cuomo’s outrage, he made unsubstantiated accusations. "This is about stealing," he said. "This is about fraud. This is about saying they work and charging the taxpayers when they didn’t work. It’s stealing. It’s criminal."
Then there was the ludicrous claim that seniority overtime is a form of "institutional racism" because the make-up of long-term employees is not diverse enough—whatever that means.
And out of desperation, there was the MTA pledge to install modern biometric timekeeping systems to control overtime. This, notwithstanding the fact the LIRR has had 120 biometric clocks for five years and overtime had continued growing by leaps and bounds.
One absurd short-term measure is the reassigning of MTA police officers from pursuing bad guys and fare evaders to monitoring LIRR overtime. But that’s like sending in the fox to watch the chicken coop.
In 2018, MTA cops received on average $34,000 in overtime pay; up from $30,192 in 2017.
Frankly, all this public posturing has been theater — bad theater. Why?
Because the governor controls the MTA and he and his predecessors have been giving away the store to transit unions for decades. Most of the overtime work rules are in contracts governors have blessed or in some cases have negotiated.
In the case of the LIRR, Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute, has pointed out that "LIRR work rules guarantee the railroad will be so short-staffed at times that it has to resort to overtime to keep trains running."
The MTA is presently in contract negotiations with the Transit Workers Union Local 100. The outcome will tell us just how serious the governor is about reforming overtime work rules.
However, don’t expect much.
Remember, when Cuomo was fighting off Cynthia Nixon’s primary challenge last year, transit workers were his most loyal supporters and their unions kicked in over $275,000 to his campaign kitty.
My guess, despite Gov. Cuomo’s tough rhetoric, he will stick with the unions as they stuck with him and overtime and work-rule "reforms" procured at the bargaining table will be mostly cosmetic not transformative.
George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact," and "Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy." He is chairman of Aid to the Church in Need-USA. Mr. Marlin also writes for TheCatholicThing.org and the Long Island Business News. To read more George J. Marlin — Click Here Now.
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